The Tennessee Titans just finished their first preseason game on Friday night. While they walked away with a decisive win, this next week has lots of storylines to watch while they fly down to Tampa Bay for a pair of joint practices ahead of preseason game number two.
Let’s dive into the five most interesting storylines that should have you glued to the practice updates and the game itself, which kicks off Saturday, August 21, at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Injuries to Key Players
There are multiple injuries we need to keep an eye on this week as the Titans practice in the sunshine state.
Tucker McCann is “sore” while Darrynton Evans is day-to-day, according to Mike Vrabel in his Saturday press conference. That’s great news for both, but we know from the Adoree Jackson experience that “day-to-day” can turn into week-to-week which can turn into where the hell are these guys? So, keep an eye on their progress this week, specifically for reports about any setbacks. My guess is that McCann will play in game two, while Evans will not.
After the offensive line’s performance on Friday, let’s see if the Titans move Aaron Brewer off the NFI list this week. Brewer won’t be a cure-all for the blocking woes, but he would be a better option to have out there and against this Tampa Bay defense, it would be some quality reps for him. If he’s going to be the team’s top backup on the interior this season, he needs to get on the field sooner than later.
Rookies Elijah Molden and Caleb Farley will be talked about in greater detail below, but their continued progress and presence is something to keep an eye on this week, as well.
Two players recovering from injuries who need more practice reps: Josh Reynolds and Bud Dupree. Brent Dougherty mentioned on 3HL on 104.5 this past Friday that Reynolds was dealing with an achilles injury of some sort (if I recall correctly) after working through a shoulder injury.
Reynolds was a lightning rod of a topic last week, so I am sure his participation and performance will be on everyone’s radar as the week progresses. He won’t be getting cut, especially after the no-show performances of three wide receivers behind him, but everyone still needs to see he is progressing well and can stay on the field to make plays.
Bud Dupree has been getting eased in since coming off the PUP list, but the Titans prized free agent acquisition needs to get some game reps in this week. This is a perfect time to get him in on 11-on-11s versus the Tampa Bay offensive line and Tom Brady. I don’t think he has to play any preseason games, but this would be some valuable reps for him before Week 1.
Will Rashad Weaver continue his dominance?
Speaking of the edge rushers, Rashad Weaver had a helluva debut. He was everywhere versus the Falcons offensive line. Let’s keep an eye on how he does versus a much better group in the Bucs offensive line.
If you watched the Bucs first preseason game, their starting offensive line wasn’t that great (Tom Brady was sacked on his only drive), which means they will be wanting to rebound from that and quickly. So, this will be a great test for Weaver. He needs to further separate himself from the guys behind him, and there is no better way to do that than to continually harass Brady.
This team drafted Weaver hoping he could supplant Derick Roberson as the undisputed number three guy in the rotation. He was arguably the most technically sound edge prospect in the class. When he was drafted, it had myself and many other media members very excited about the prospect of him using his size and technique to dominate the opposition.
However, as you all know, legal troubles reared their ugly head and put a damper on Weaver’s outlook and hype. We don’t really know yet what the outcome of that will be, and who knows really when it will all resolve (Weaver is scheduled for a preliminary court hearing on October 5th), but as of now, everyone needs to enjoy what he’s doing on the field.
It’s been a while since the Titans have had three quality edge rushers, and if Weaver continues to build upon his first preseason outing against a much better opponent, then I’m fairly certain the Titans won’t be a historically bad defense in 2021.
Will David Long Jr. continue to be the third-down ILB?
This is a David Long Jr. stan site. I think maybe all of the Titans fans and media love Long. The only problem is that the team seems to think of him as more of a Jayon Brown replacement than a Rashaan Evans replacement. Well, maybe their line of thinking has changed…
According to Will Lomas of Titans Sized, the Titans main front seven played two series on Friday, including three third-down opportunities. In a stunning turn of events, this team sent Evans to the bench and brought in Long to play alongside Brown for these third-down situations.
This is fantastic news, as Evans has long been a liability in most situations that aren’t backed up into his own end zone. Those that watch the Titans just need to be open and honest about that. Long, for a little over the last season, has been the second-best linebacker on the team.
On our podcast Football & Other F Words, we have said numerous times that we all felt that Long is much closer in style of play to Evans than Brown, and now that all three seem healthy for the first time in forever, it looks like (for now) the team is moving forward with that idea.
Obviously, this is something to keep an eye on going forward, but there is also a secondary storyline to this. What about Monty Rice? Rice was supposedly penciled in as the future Evans replacement, and while he made some tackles on Friday, he’s had a quiet camp. So with Long stepping into this third-down role, are Vrabel and Shane Bowen content with bringing a third-round rookie, who they overdrafted, along slowly? What place can he carve out on this team?
It will be interesting to see how Long and Rice fare over the last two weeks of preseason, especially this week at joint practices. If Rice progresses, then Evans may be a name popping up near the trade deadline.
Will we see Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden in action?
Farley obviously was not going to play this first preseason game, and I don’t really expect him to play in game two either. However, I do expect him to get lots of work, a la the aforementioned Dupree, in 11-on-11s and other drills this week at joint practices.
It will be a good enough test for the Titans’ 2021 first-round pick, who hasn’t played a game since 2019. Right now, after the cornerback group’s performance on Friday, I’m okay with them easing him into an actual game. However, he is ready, in the very least, to get some reps against the likes of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Mr. Big Chest.
Molden was a shocker that he didn’t travel with the team to Atlanta. Vrabel said that Farley wanted to come to the game and dress out and get in the routine, but it sounds like Molden wasn’t able to. As of this writing, we still don’t know the full details of Molden’s injury and whether or not it’s linked to the injury that kept him out of rookie minicamp and most of OTAs.
While Molden, much like Farley, doesn’t need to be rushed back, it would be nice to see some progress out of this draft class. Last year’s draft class wasn’t able to contribute heavily, due to injuries, off-field issues, and COVID, but the team really needs a lot of these guys to step up, and Molden was primed to be a contributor.
Molden is a smart, instinctual cornerback who I likened to Charles “Peanut” Tillman, and both myself and Mike Herndon (RIP) thought would get at least a takeaway versus Atlanta. Much like most of the people mentioned in this article, this a great week to get some valuable reps against a quality opponent. I doubt Molden will play in game two, but he needs to get on the practice field this week.
Will Dez Fitzpatrick ever show up?
Just kidding. If I were to bet however, versus this Bucs defense, it’s going to be more lackluster performances from a player who was over-valued and not worth the multiple draft picks used to move up to get him. Even Vrabel is pretty much foreshadowing the end for Fitzpatrick by saying “he needs to show us a lot more in practice”:
After glowing reports from rookie minicamp, Fitzpatrick has all but disappeared since the pads came on. He saw some action in Friday’s game, but came away with zero catches on zero targets for zero yards and zero touchdowns. He got blanked. Not great, Bob.
At this point, while he has two weeks to turn things around, it’s much more likely that he somehow ends up on a practice squad somewhere, rather than as an active contributor. The reason I say somewhere is because if the Titans cut him, the team’s Week 1 opponent, the Cardinals, or one of the AFC South rivals, might pick him up to try and glean what they can about the Titans’ “new” offense.
There is a glimmer of hope for Fitzpatrick to make this team, and that is the fact the much ballyhooed wide receivers Marcus Johnson and Racey McMath shriveled into nothingness under the bright Friday night lights. It is a sad state of affairs that a fourth-round pick has to rely on the failure of others instead of just living up to expectations, but that is what happens when you reach for a borderline undraftable player.
Bonus: How much will Tom Brady troll Mike Vrabel?
Who can forget the Patriots/Titans joint practices from 2019? The Patriots came to Nashville and did not come empty handed. Brady presented Vrabel with a trophy for the Titans’ 2018 regular season win against the Patriots, while the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
It was a great troll, even though it was the expense of the Titans’ head coach, and it even had Bill Belichick cackling like a mad man. It was actually probably the last great memory Bill and Tom have together. So with Brady coming back to town with another Super Bowl ring on his finger, how will he troll Vrabel this year?
Let’s not forget the Titans were “supposedly” serious contenders for Brady’s services heading into the 2020 season (they weren’t), so I’m sure Brady has that in mind. Will we see Edelman make an appearance to help with a troll?
Just a fun little storyline to keep an eye on.
What storylines will you be keeping an eye on? Drop your comments below!